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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
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Fall 2002, Vol. 29 No. 2

Openly Addressing the Reality: Homosexuality and the Catholic Seminary Policies

Michael J. Maher

In the year 2000, a Jubilee year for the Roman Catholic Church, an issue with which the Church has struggled over centuries came once again into public discussion through a number of published articles and studies. The newspaper, the Kansas City Star,1 published a series by Judy L. Thomas discussing the high rate of AIDS infection among Catholic priests in the United States. The series also explored questions of homosexuality among U.S. priests and how the issue was handled in Catholic seminaries. A book by Fr. Donald Cozzens, President-Rector of Saint Mary Catholic Seminary in Cleveland, The Changing Face of Priesthood,2 was also published in 2000. Cozzens argues that American Catholic seminaries were attracting larger and larger numbers of gay students and that "Should our seminaries become significantly gay, and many seasoned observers find them to be precisely that, the priesthood of the twenty-first century will likely be perceived as a predominately gay profession."3 Recent years had seen attention to the issue by conservative groups such as The Roman Catholic Faithful, which operate a web page and have attacked organizations for gay Catholic clergy, such as the Chicago-based Communication Ministry, Inc. and the now defunct Saint Sebastianís Angels web page.4

While not so widely in the popular media, the issue of gay seminarians had been a subject of study for the Catholic Church in the United States in the recent decades. Popular Catholic sociologist, Father Andrew Greeley, reported that a gay subculture of priests existed in most Catholic dioceses in a 1989 article in the National Catholic Reporter.5 An earlier example of concerns over homosexual Catholic seminarians is a 1966 workshop for psychologists engaged in the assessment of candidates for the priesthood and religious life which took place at the School of Nursing of the Saint Vincentís Hospital and Medical Center in New York. Coville presented, "Perhaps the most troublesome and most frequent appearing sociopathic features or disturbances in assessment work concern the high incidence of effeminacy, heterosexual retardation, psychosexual immaturity, deviations or potential deviations of the homosexual typeÖ.A recent study of 107 male candidates, for example, shows that 8% of these were sexually deviant, whereas 70% were described as psychosexually immature, exhibiting traits of heterosexual retardation, confusion concerning sexual role, fear of sexuality, effeminacy, and potential homosexual dispositions."6 Coville was careful to point out that the sample should not be assumed to be representative.

The issue is not specific to the United States. Great Britainís Channel 4 aired a documentary in 2001 entitled "Queer and Catholic."7 In the documentary, Fr. Kevin Haggerty, Rector of Saint Johnís Catholic Seminary, warned that gay students were forming "divisive cliques" in Catholic seminaries. Elizabeth Stuartís 1993 book, Chosen,8 is a collection of stories from gay Catholic priests in Britain. She found that the handling of the topic of homosexuality in British Catholic seminaries had not improved greatly between the 1950ís and the 1990ís. The Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors of the Netherlands published its "pastoral letter," Called to Blessing, in 1989. The group was founded in 1980.9

In fact, the issue was still the concern of Rome in recent decades. The Sacred Congregation for the Religious, a Vatican congregation, stated in 1961, "Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers."10

While I am reluctant to connect the two issues, I must acknowledge the 2002 media coverage of cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States. While such cases have been reported by the media for some time, this year has brought out more cases and more offensive behavior than previously shown. Again, I am reluctant to connect the two issues, but it is clear that the American public has been forced to think more about the sex lives of Catholic priests, especially where their lives involve sex with males. In the face of priest sex abuse scandals in 2002, Pope John Paul II, as well as Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls and Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, have all stated that seminaries must screen out homosexual candidates.11

The purpose of this paper is to report a case study I conducted in Saint Louis, Missouri. I wished to investigate how homosexuality affected the policies of Catholic seminaries in the 1950ís. I argue that the Catholic Church has long been aware that a significant percentage of its clergy are gay and that one demonstration of this is through the policies of its seminaries.

[Fall 2002 Issue Contents]